My all-time favorite comment thread is this one, which was ignited by a post about a poem, “A Dish of Peaches in Cluj,” by Maria Benet (there’s a nice piece by Beth Ashley about her in the Marin Independent Journal). I am happy to report that the poem is included in her new collection, Mapmaker of Absences (published by Sixteen Rivers Press), a gorgeous book inside and out—even the table of contents is unusual and pleasing to the eye. You can read a couple of the poems at the book site; here’s a couple more. First, another poem about her native city:
after William Carlos Williams
Trunks by the door
blue and gold
obscured in dim light—
smell of dust—
Sun of early morning—
on the wood floor
a wood frame, the picture
missing, next to it
scissors are lying—and the
cavernous empty room
(That’s the first of “Three American-Style Studies of a Landscape Rendered Foreign,” the third of which is “Peaches in Cluj.”) Another:
He finds her in the garden,
shears in gloved hands,
doing something to roses
he does not remember planting.
When he tells her it’s over,
the long hours, the daily commute,
she drops the shears: “Never mind,
we’ll fix the house, or take up golf.”
A confusion of roses, a scented
Greek chorus, comes apart at her feet.
Like a great empty hall,
the garden is silent,
the clamor of voices quelled.
He picks up the fallen shears,
she gathers the roses. They stand
apart and overcome by longing.
I want to quote more—”Half an Hour” (“The poet Cavafy knew this kind of alchemy…”), “An Italian Romance” (“This time, I know you are taken/ by the wind in the olive trees…”), the “Ghazal” from which the title is taken (“Memory, the mapmaker of absences, tracing/ vanishing steps—the fugitive friend, a burden…”)—but I’d wind up quoting the whole book; you’ll just have to buy it to get the full dose of formal pleasure mixed with lived emotion and exact perception. Trust me, you won’t regret it.
Update (July 2016). The “nice piece by Beth Ashley” has vanished behind a paywall; here, for the record, is the snippet the site gives you via the search function, since even that will probably eventually be unavailable:
Romanian and Hungarian were her native languages, so Maria Benet still feels uncertain about her English.
That may explain the elegant precision in the wording of her poems.
“I have worked on some of them for as long as five years,” she says.
Benet, a Greenbrae resident who was born in Transylvania, is one of two Marin poets – the other is Gerald Fleming of Lagunitas – whose works have been selected for publication by Sixteen Rivers Press.
Benet has dipped her toe in and